Is Richardson misleading about her legal experience?

Monique Richardson is not a former prosecutor.  She was not an assistant state attorney.  And she should be very careful about leading people to believe she ever held that position.

This is not a “hit piece”.  This is a researched article that is offered in response to a question from me to Ms. Richardson that she left unanswered.  I do not want to have to do this – not because it will be perceived by some as a smear, but because I should not have to expose what appears to be misleading statement from someone who wants to sit on the bench.  But when the question went unanswered by Ms. Richardson, I went looking for an answer.  And I found it.

Disclaimer:  I endorse and have donated to the campaign of incumbent candidate Layne Smith.  I claim no political party affiliation.  Herein, I will do my best to state only facts and point out why those facts raise significant questions.  Any opinions are mine alone. I went to high school with Ms. Richardson and have respect for her and her family.

Richardson’s claim

Like any other candidate for public office, Monique Richardson is touting her experience as a reason to elect her as a Leon County judge.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, take a look at her claims, found on her own campaign website.

MR About

The third paragraph strongly implies and leads the reader to believe that she actually served as a sworn assistant state attorney, a prosecutor:

During her 15-year career as an attorney, Ms. Richardson’s work with the State Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Public Defender and today as the managing attorney for the Tallahassee branch office of Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. (LSNF), has centered on providing high-quality legal representation to clients who otherwise would not have had such access.

In a recent Facebook post that I saw and interacted with, a Florida Democratic Party leader made the same comment, that Richardson worked as “a state attorney”:

MR FB 1

Forget for a second that a judicial race is non-partisan, and Richardson even asking the partly leader to share her “meet and greet” invite, and acknowledging the FB post by the Florida Democratic Party, is highly questionable.  That’s enough pause for alarm.  But note that the Democratic Party misinterpreted the fact regarding working “as a state attorney” – twice.  While I question their involvement in a non-partisan judicial race, I believe the misrepresentation was inadvertent – more on that below.

Note that I caught the post, and was curious as to Ms. Richardson having “worked as a . . . state attorney” – to me, meaning prosecutor, and seeing that she had responded to the post, and asked for clarification.  Her response was not to clarify, but to continue to leave the insinuation out there that she had been a sworn assistant state attorney.

Like so many of us, I’ve had a wide range of professional experiences over the years.  Although I don’t recall the time you’re referencing, I’ve worked in both the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office.

Now, I’m not that stupid, and got concerned with that response.  So I narrowed my next question to use the word “prosecutor.”  As you can see, there was no response from Richardson.  And I know why.  She can’t answer the question because she was not a prosecutor.

The truth

Monique Richardson was never a prosecutor.  She was never a legally sworn assistant state attorney.  She was an law student intern.  There is a huge difference:  Florida Statute section 27.18 requires that an assistant state attorney be a member of the Florida Bar.

She was certified by the Supreme Court of Florida as an intern on August 25, 1998, before she started working as an intern at the State Attorney’s Office:

MR intern appointment

Monique Richardson did not pass the Florida Bar on the first time she took it.  We know that from her internship resignation letter, dated April 22, 1999, which is public record.  She writes, “I am retaking the Florida portion of the Florida Bar Exam . . . “:

MR resignation letter

*According to her Florida Bar profile, Ms. Richardson finally became an attorney on April 13, 2000.

Note:  the Bar offers its exam twice a year:  in February and in July.  If you take and pass the February exam, you are usually admitted by April.  If you take and pass the July exam, you are usually admitted in September.  I question whether she failed the Bar exam a second time; if she took it in July 1999 as her resignation letter states, then she would have been admitted in September 1999 had she passed.  Being admitted in April 2000 strongly indicates that she took the February 2000 bar exam, and passing that then was admitted in April.  Only she can answer that important question as to her legal acumen.

Look again at Richardson’s website.  While going into detail about her work as an assistant public defender and at LSNF, the webpage makes no other reference to working at the Office of the State Attorney, nor does it say Richardson’s work there was actually as an intern.

Do not take just my word for the fact that she was not a prosecutor (which is entirely accurate under any analysis), take it from Monique Richardson herself.  In an application for a judicial position (ostensibly the one she was not appointed to and is now running for), she lists her time at the State Attorney’s Office as “Certified Legal Intern . . . August 1998 – April 1999.”

MR legal job list

Here is a copy of her application, which is public record.  If it is accurate, it gives you a much more realistic view of her overall experience; you can judge for yourself whether it is judicial material.

The problem

In my opinion, Richardson specifically structures her webpage and the Facebook response to make the community believe she was an attorney at the State Attorney’s Office – a full-blown prosecutor.  Prosecutorial experience is highly valuable to a judicial candidate.  Had she said “while in law school, I served as a legal intern at the State Attorney’s Office”, or written “prior to becoming an attorney, she worked as a legal intern . . .”, it would have been clear.  However, she purposely put “work with the State Attorney’s Office” after “[d]uring her 15-year career as an attorney.”

As an attorney . . . that’s my concern.  Her work at the State Attorney’s Office was not “during” (her word) her “15-year career as an attorney” (also her words).  It was before her career as an attorney.  Again, her words:  15 years from the time she announced her candidacy in 2015 would be 2000 – when she was admitted to the bar.  Not in 1998-1999 when she was . . . you get it . . . not an attorney working as an intern at the State Attorney’s Office.

It strongly appears that she intends that people think she was a sworn assistant state attorney (prosecutor) when, in fact, she was not . . . There is no other interpretation of her statements.  That is clear from the Facebook post – even a highly intelligent and very reputable individual misinterpreted Richardson’s experience – twice.  That’s the problem with the lack of clarity here – people can be misled, and that’s not fair or right.

If one is going to make point out on his or her campaign website that he or she give foster care to kitty cats, and specifically lists the places in the world to which he or she has traveled, and can name Alfred Hitchcock by name – then certainly that person can easily be crystal clear about prior legal experience.

There is nothing wrong with having been a certified legal intern before becoming an attorney.  I did it myself!  I am proud of that experience, and strongly support the internship programs.  I encourage my students to do internships.  I work with interns all the time on my cases.  If  you ask just about any of them, they will tell you that I speak fondly of my own time as an intern and encourage them to get the most out of their own internship.  Ms. Richardson should be proud that she was an legal intern and make it clear to the public that her short time at the State Attorney’s Office was as a part of the Bar’s internship program.

Instead, Ms. Richardson has used vague phrases that appear carefully crafted so not to be an outright mistruths, but still convey that she was a prosecutor.  Surely, she is not outrightly lying about working at the State Attorney’s Office – she did in fact work there.  But there is a huge difference in being a short-time law school intern, and being a sworn attorney, Bar member prosecutor.  Surely she knows that – or should know that – and is apparently mincing words to convey that she served in the attorney capacity.  Sorry, it does not work like that.  Someone who wants to be a judge should be crystal clear, 100% transparent, and make accurate statements that gives the community assurance of the character of the individual.

This is no different, and just as troubling, as a Bar complaint pending against Miami attorney and judicial candidate Marcia Del Rey, for Del Rey’s claim that she was an assistant state attorney, when in reality she was apparently only an intern.  Coincidentally, I ran across this article just before Ms. Richardson failed to respond to my question.  It is the same exact problem.

A final note about her experience claims.  Ms. Richardson extols her “significant trial experience”; her last judicial application lists her LIFETIME trial experience as 8 jury trials, 90 non-jury trials, and 3 administrative body hearings.  As a state and nationally board certified attorney myself, and long-time teacher of advocacy at the law school level, let me tell you that 8 jury trials is a surprisingly low number.  So, again, Ms. Richardson’s use of the term “significant” is (in my opinion) misleading . . .  there’s a huge difference between a jury and a bench trial.  Ms. Richardson doesn’t tell you that, either.

Leon County voters, think very carefully about your decision.  You can keep Layne Smith, a proven fair and impartial judge who passed the Bar on the first try and who does not misrepresent his substantial credentials.  Or, you can vote for a candidate who appears to engage in word play to pad her resume.

Sorry, I’m calling it like I see it, and the documents are the undeniable evidence.

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